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Los Angeles Kings expansion draft strategy

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As the calendar turns to June, the focus of NHL GM’s will start to shift to preparing their gameplans for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. The draft is now a little over two weeks away and all the months of speculation will finally become a reality as George McPhee and his staff select the players that will compose the inaugural roster of Las Vegas’s first Big 4 professional franchise. Each of the NHL’s thirty teams has two options for the players they can put on their protected list: seven forwards-three defensemen-one goalie or eight skaters-one goalie. Although the first approach allows more players overall to be protected there is a good chance the Los Angeles Kings will choose the latter option in order to protect more defensemen. Here is a look at an approach that the Kings could take to protect themselves from the Golden Knights.

Forwards

This is an easy decision as there is a clear top four among Los Angeles forwards. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson are locks to be protected. Notable names likely to be exposed are Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, and Trevor Lewis. Both Brown and Gaborik have cumbersome contracts that are making life difficult for Rob Blake and assistant GM Mike Futa, who will hope that Vegas will bite on either veteran forward to alleviate their cap problems. Lewis is a valued part of the Kings leadership group and a good bottom six player but his lack of offensive impact does not warrant the use of a valuable draft protection spot.

Defensemen

Here’s where things get interesting for the Kings. Obviously Drew Doughty will be protected and, barring any potential trades, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez will also make the cut. That leaves one spot for either Derek Forbort, Brayden McNabb, or Matt Greene. Out of those three, Greene is the least likely to need protection because his questionable future due to injury will probably deter Vegas from selecting him despite his leadership credentials. That brings us to McNabb or Forbort. The organization has invested a lot into both players, spending assets to acquire McNabb from the Buffalo Sabres in 2014 and patiently developing Forbort since his selection in the 2010 draft. While McNabb has been a regular in LA for three seasons, Forbort had a breakthrough year this past year, logging big minutes alongside Doughty on the top pairing. It’s a tough decision but the Kings are more likely to protect Forbort due to his positive development so far and higher ceiling.

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Goaltending

No question here, it’s Jonathan Quick. Although Ben Bishop’s presence added some intriguing, albeit unlikely, possibilities for the future of the Los Angeles crease, his trade to the Dallas Stars removes all doubt that this is Quick’s team. The Kings do have to address the issue of finding a backup for Quick, with Jeff Zatkoff suffering a disastrous past season. Jack Campbell had a decent year with the Ontario Reign in the AHL but help may have to come from outside the organization for next season at least.

Overall, the Kings are one of the easier teams to predict when it comes to the expansion draft as the only real dispute is whether to protect McNabb or Forbort. Assuming that they do indeed choose the eight skater-one goalie route, the Golden Knights are expected to pick whichever defenseman the Kings don’t protect, although LA may add some incentives to convince Vegas to take Brown or Gaborik off their hands.

Yardbarker: NHL

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